Shiloh: The Bloodiest Days of 1862
The Confederate Situation
In early 1862, after the decisive Confederate losses in Kentucky and upper Tennessee, CSA General Albert Sidney Johnston pulled his forces together in northern Mississippi, and along with CSA General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard began plans for a campaign to retake the lost territory. Part of the Union strategy was to divide the Confederacy in half by taking middle Tennessee and then Atlanta; the Confederate overall strategy is much more daunting: stop the Union forces when the opportunity arose, grind them up when possible, and simply survive until the North grew tired of the fight.
Johnstonıs newly organized CSA Army of Mississippi, based in the important rail center of Corinth, Mississippi, steadily built up through March of 1862. CSA Major General Leonidas Polk, CSA Brigadier General (and former USA Vice-President) John C. Breckinridge and CSA Major General William J. Hardee brought the remnants of their Corps down from Kentucky, CSA Major General Braxton Bragg brought most of his Corps north from Pensacola, Florida and CSA Brigadier General Daniel Rugglesıs Division marched east from New Orleans. Other commands scattered around the deep South detached individual regiments and brigades, which arrived in the northern Mississippi town all through the last two weeks of March. By April 1, Johnston had a roughly organized, ill-trained and mostly inexperienced force of about 45,000 officers and men under his command.
The Union Situation
After taking Fort Henry, in the north-central region of Tennessee, USA Flag Officer Foote sailed his small gunboat fleet down the Tennessee River nearly unmolested all the way to Florence, Alabama, decisively demonstrating just how vulnerable the South was to invasion via the river systems. One of the very few attempts at a Confederate resistance to his mission was on March 1, when Gibsonıs Battery of the 1st Louisiana Artillery Regiment, mounted on a bluff just downstream from Savannah, Tennessee, lobbed a few shells at his fleet as they passed. CSA Colonel Alfred Moutonıs infantry from the adjacent 18th Louisiana Infantry joined in, ineffectively shooting up the side of the armored gunboats. Foote returned fire and the shelling soon stopped.
Two weeks later, Union forces started moving south under the overall command of USA Major General Henry Wager Halleck, with two missions: take control of and repair roads through middle Tennessee, and clear the area of any Confederate force they encountered. Once all his forces were concentrated at Savannah, Halleck intended to move further south, into Mississippi, and destroy the rail junctions in Corinth, Jackson, Humbolt and Iuka. To accomplish this mission, Halleck had two grand armies: USA Major General Ulysses Simpson Grantıs Army of the Tennessee and USA Major General Don Carlos Buellıs Army of the Ohio, with a combined total of just under 63,000 men on the march south.
A heavy reconnaissance force under USA Brigadier General Charles Ferguson Smith (promoted one week later to Major General) arrived in Savannah on March 13, charged by Halleck to seize and hold or at least cut the Memphis & Charleston Railroad at Corinth without engaging with Confederate forces rumored to be gathering in the area. USA Brigadier General William Tecumseh Sherman arrived from Kentucky the next day, and Smith promptly sent him off towards Eastport, Mississippi, to see if he could cut the railroad there. As he sailed south on the Tennessee River aboard USA Lieutenant William Gwinıs gunboat, Tyler, Gwin pointed out the location of their earlier skirmish with the Confederate artillery battery. Alarmed at the close presence of the enemy to his intended target, Sherman sent word back to Smith that this location should be occupied in force as soon as possible. Smith agreed and immediately dispatched USA Brigadier General Stephen Hurlbutıs Division to occupy the small bluff, Pittsburg Landing, about three miles northeast of a tiny settlement called Shiloh Church.
Shiloh is in a relatively remote part of Tennessee, very close to the common border of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. The nearest city with access to an interstate highway is Jackson (Interstate 40 between Memphis and Nashville), 52 miles to the northwest via U.S. Highway 64 and U.S. Highway 45. The nearest large cities are Memphis, 113 miles west on U.S. 64, and Chattanooga, 204 miles east vis U.S. 64 and Interstate 24.
As we came in to Shiloh from the east, we took I24 north out of Chattanooga to exit 134 (Monteagle), turning west on U.S. Highway 41 Alt. through Sewanee and turning west/south on U.S. 64 just outside Winchester. U.S. 64 is a pleasant, but long journey through southern Tennessee about 140 miles to Savannah. This small town lies just 10 miles northeast of the park; continue on U.S. 64 until you cross the Tennessee River into Crump, then take the first major road intersection to the left, Tennessee Highway 22, which runs straight through the park.
Sherman soon returned from his reconnaissance, finding the Confederates were present in force at his intended target, and joined Hurlbut at Pittsburg Landing. Scouting the area, he reported back to Smith that the area was ³important,² and easily defended by a relatively small force, although the ground provided a good encampment space for several thousand troops. The few settlers at the landing had fled with the arrival of Union gunboats, and the only localsı remaining were small-plot farmers scattered about the county. The small Methodist meeting-house, Shiloh Church, was described as a rude one-room log cabin, ³which would make a good corncrib for an Illinois farmer.² Sherman urged Smith to relocate the majority of forces to this small landing; the northernmost road link to their intended target of Corinth, Mississippi.
Grant arrived on March 17 to take over direct command of the Tennessee River operation from Smith, setting up his headquarters in the Cherry Mansion on Main Street. He soon ordered his (roughly) 35,000 force to deploy on the west side of the river, save a small garrison in Savannah, with five divisions to join with Sherman at Pittsburg Landing, and USA Brigadier General Lewis ³Lew² Wallaceıs 2nd Division to occupy Crumpıs Landing, six miles north of Shermanıs position.
Another major Union army, USA Major General Don Carlos Buellıs Army of the Ohio, was on the way south from Nashville with another 30,000 men (both this figure and Grantıs total command size are wildly disparate in differing accounts). Grant planned to rest his men and wait for Buells arrival before starting his operation against Corinth. Although he was aware that the Confederates were present in force just 20 miles away, he believed that they would simply entrench around Corinth and have to be forced out. An attack on Pittsburg Landing was, quite literally, the last thing he expected the Confederates to do.
It took well over a week to transport all the Union forces south to the new position, and the divisions moved inland and encamped in a loose semicircle south of the landing and across the Corinth Road as they arrived. His own 5th Division headquarters was just to the west of the Corinth Road with USA Colonel John A. McDowellıs 1st, USA Colonel Ralph P. Bucklandıs 4th and USA Colonel Jesse Hildebrandıs 3rd Brigades from Owl Creek left (east) to just south of the small Shiloh Church. USA Colonel David Stuartıs 2nd Brigade of Shermanıs command encamped about two miles further east, at the far left of the Union line just above Locust Grove Branch at the Hamburg-Savannah Road. To Shermanıs main line left encamped Hurlbutıs 4th Division, with USA Colonel Nelson G. Williamsı 1st, USA Colonel James C. Veatchıs 2nd and USA Colonel Jacob G. Laumanıs 3rd Brigades arrayed across the intersection of the Corinth and Hamburg-Savannah Roads.
USA Major General John A. McClernandıs 1st Division deployed behind Shermanıs, USA Colonel Abraham M. Hareıs 1st, USA Colonel C. Carroll Marshıs 2nd and USA Colonel Julius Raithıs 3rd Brigades encamping along the Corinth Road as it ran due west to the Hamburg-Purdy Road intersection. Smithıs Division stayed close to Pittsburg Landing itself, USA Colonel James M. Tuttleıs 1st , USA Colonel Thomas W. Sweenyıs 3rd and USA Brigadier General John McArthurıs Brigades encamping just north of the end of the Corinth Road and west to Snake Creek. USA Brigadier General Benjamin M. Prentissı newly organized 6th Division landed and moved the furthest south, USA Colonel Madison Millerıs 2nd and USA Colonel Everett Peabodyıs 1st Brigades making camp to Shermanıs southeast, in the woods across and to the west of the Eastern Corinth Road.
By March 19th, all six divisions were in place and comfortably making camp. Smith had been injured while jumping from one boat to another during the landing, and was soon forced to hand over command of his 2nd Division to USA Brigadier General William H.L. Wallace. Smith died on April 25 of a foot infection from the wound.
The Confederate Advance
Johnston was well aware of Grantıs presence to the north of his headquarters, and received a message on April 2 that Buellıs force was nearby as well. Still waiting in Corinth for the last of his assigned forces to arrive, Johnston decided that he would have to go ahead and attack the gathering Union force before Buellıs addition could make it stronger. His orders were simple, march north and engage the enemy between his encampments and the river, turning their left flank and forcing them away from their line of retreat until they were forced to surrender.
Beauregard planned out the tactical details of the coming attack, and issued orders to move out on the morning of April 3. Confederate units scattered across upper Mississippi and lower Tennessee were to converge by April 4 on Mickeyıs Farmhouse, eight miles south of Pittsburg Landing, where final preparations for the attack would begin. Hardeeıs and Braggıs Corps would march north from Corinth, along with one division of Polkıs Corps, along the parallel Bark and Pittsburg Landing Roads. Breckinridgeıs Corps moved north from Burnsville and Polkıs other division (Cheathamıs) would move southeast from Purdy, Tennessee, to join at the rendezvous farm.
The march took much longer than Beauregard had planned, due to poor preparation and a steady rain that turned the dirt roads into mud quagmires. It was late in the evening of April 5 before everyone was in position at the junction of Corinth and Bark Roads, with Hardeeıs Corps arrayed in the front only 1/2 mile from the Union picket line. Union cavalry patrols had engaged with forward elements of each column on both April 4 and 5, leading Beauregard to ask Johnston to call off the attack. He stated that his carefully scheduled attack plan was now ³disrupted,² and that with the cavalry attacks, surely all aspects of surprise were long gone. Johnston was adamant about continuing the attack, telling Beauregard, Polk and Bragg, ³Gentlemen, we shall attack at daylight to-morrow.² Moments later, he remarked to one of his staff officers, ³I would fight them if they were a million. They can present no greater front between these two creeks than we can, and the more men they crowd in there, the worse we can make it for them.²
The Night of April 5
All through the dark, damp night, Confederate soldiers lay in the woods, listening to Union bands playing patriotic tunes just yards away. Union soldiers had listened to them advancing into position all evening, and had sent a slew of frantic messages up the chain of command warning of their presence. Amazingly, all these warning were ignored by Grantıs staff, who believed they amounted to nothing more than reconnaissance patrols. Grant was still firmly convinced that Johnstonıs men were continuing to entrench heavily at Corinth, and was only concerned with how difficult it was going to be to ³root them out.²
To top off the Union armyıs lack of combat preparedness, Halleck had ordered Grant not to be pulled into a fight that would distract him from his goal of taking Corinth, and Grant followed suit by ordering no patrolling of his own forces, for fear they might engage the enemy ³patrols² and create a general battle. His brigade commanders furthest south were growing increasingly nervous, passing on report after report to headquarters that their men were spotting more and more Confederate cavalry, infantry and even artillery. Their frantic requests for reinforcement, or even for permission to mount their own scouting missions were denied, their division commanders only reiterating Grantıs orders.
Finally, as darkness fell on April 5, Peabody decided it would be better to beg forgiveness if he was wrong than to ask permission again, and gave orders for a combat patrol to go out as early as possible the next morning. At 3 AM, USA Major James Powell led his 25th Missouri and the 12th Michigan Infantry Regiments, with a total of 250 men, out into the predawn blackness, heading south towards the Corinth Road. They had marched southwesterly down a narrow farm lane only about 1/4 mile before running into Confederate cavalry vedettes. Both sides exchanged fire briefly before the cavalry suddenly withdrew. It was just before 5 AM. Powell deployed his men into a line-abreast skirmish line and continued southeast, towards Fraleyıs field.
The First Day, April 6, 1862: The Battle Begins
Powellıs men moved into the cotton field, and soon came under fire from CSA Major Aaron B. Hardcastleıs 3rd Mississippi Battalion, who had observed them enter the field and waited until they closed within 90 yards to fire. The Union soldiers hit the ground and returned a heavy volume of fire. This exchange of fire lasted until 6:30 AM, both sides suffering moderate casualties, until Powell saw Hardcastleıs men suddenly disengage and move back into the woods. Believing they were retreating, Powell had ordered his men up and was preparing to move out again, when to his horror a mile-wide mass of Confederate soldiers suddenly appeared at the woodline before him, 9,000 men of Hardeeıs Corps on the way north.
The Confederate force was fully up and moving, their surprise attack only slightly tripped up by Powellıs tiny force. Behind Hardee was Braggıs Corps, also in a near mile-wide line of battle, followed by Polkıs Corps in route-march formation (columns of brigades) on the Corinth Road. In the rear, and also in columns of brigades, was Breckinridgeıs Reserve Corps. The whole formation was a ³T² shaped box, almost a mile wide and more than two miles long, all moving forward slowly towards the Union encampments.
Before he was killed and his small patrol force scattered, Powell managed to get word back to Peabody about the general attack. Peabody immediately moved his brigade south to try and aid Powell. Hardee was having a tough time moving his large force north, the Union patrol and skirmishers delaying his general movement and the terrain not conducive to moving such a heavy mass of troops and equipment. As the two forces moved towards each other, Prentiss rode up to Peabody, and began berating him for sending out the patrol, and ³bringing this battle on.² After a few minutes of argument, Peabody set his men up in line of battle near his original encampment, while Prentiss set his force up on the left, making ready to engage the oncoming Confederates.
The time was now 7 AM, and the sun was dawning on what looked like a beautiful, cloudless day.
Hardeeıs Corps had broken up into the individual brigades, which spread out to engage the Union encampments in a near two-mile front. At Spain Field on the Eastern Corinth Road, CSA Brigadier General Adley H. Gladdenıs Brigade burst out of the woodline directly across from Prentissı line, the field itself swept with heavy artillery fire from both sides. A galling fire came from the Union line that staggered the Confederates. Only able to stand for a few minutes, the brigade broke and retreated to the woodline, dragging with them mortally wounded Gladden, who died later that same day.
Over on the left, about the same time, CSA Brigadier General Sterling A.M. Woodıs Brigade hit Peabodyıs right flank, pushing the Union infantry out of their line and back. Johnston, no longer able to stand being out of the line of fire, turned over operations in the rear to Beauregard and rushed forward to lead the battle from the front. Arriving just in time to see Woodıs success and Gladdenıs repulse, he ordered all four brigades now up on the line to fix bayonets and assault the Union line at the double-quick. 9,800 men ran screaming forward into the Union lines.
As his command withered under the assault, Peabody rode forward to rally his men, and was hit four times by rifle fire as he rode down the line. Finally, in front of his own tent, watching the butternut-clad ranks closing in on him from two sides, Peabody is shot from his saddle, dying instantly. His command completely crumbles, followed shortly by Prentissı own men. Even as William Wallaceıs and Hurlbutıs Brigades move south to reinforce them, most of the Union infantry has had enough of this fight, and retreat at the run towards Pittsburg Landing.
As the Union men break and run, the victorious Confederate infantry race into their just abandoned encampment, then abandon the fight while they fall over the piles of fresh food and good equipment. Exhortations of their officers do no good, as the brigades and regiments dissolve into a rabble pillaging the camps. Beauregard and Johnston take several precious minutes getting the men back under control and reorganized to renew their attack, while the Union line stops itıs headlong retreat and falls in to new positions for defense.
Johnston orders up Braggıs Corps into the growing battle, splitting his five brigades between the left and right of Hardeeıs men, and ordering him to take command of the assault on the right flank. On the right, CSA Brigadier General John K. Jacksonıs and CSA Brigadier General James R. Chalmerıs Brigades join the rout of Prentiss briefly, while on the left CSA Colonel Preston Pondıs and CSA Brigadier General Patton Andersonıs Brigades join CSA Brigadier General Patrick Ronayne Cleburneıs Brigade, which was steadily advancing on Shermanıs position at Shiloh Church. CSA Colonel Randall L. Gibsonıs Brigade continues straight due northeast, in between the two major assaults now ongoing, headed to try and break the Union center and turn Shermanıs left flank. In an attempt to bring the bring the strongest force on his right flank, and force the Ohio generalıs division away from the river, Johnston brings up Polkıs Corps, and sends his four brigades into the line alongside Bragg. Hardee is instructed to take direct command of the left flank, and hammer hard on Shermanıs position.
The Second Union Line
By 9 AM, 13 Confederate brigades are fully engaged along a nearly three mile front, and steadily pushing back Union forces all along. Sherman is soon reinforced by McClernandıs Division, while newly arriving Hurlbut, William Wallace and McArthur join in a hastily organized line along with what is left of Prentissı Brigade to Shermanıs left over to the Hamburg-Savannah Road. Wallace was particularly well positioned along a narrow wagon trace, hardly even a road, well concealed in an oak forest atop a low ridgeline with a good field of fire before him across the open Duncan field, a place in the center of Grantıs defense line today referred to as the Sunken Road.
Sherman, wounded in the hand during his stand around the church, was forced to retreat at 10 AM when a heavy attack by five Confederate brigades breaks through to his left and threatens to envelope his position. Alongside Sherman, McClernandıs Division has already set up a defensive perimeter within the confines of their own camp, extending the line east to the southern border of Duncan field, directly across from William Wallaceıs position.
Grant had heard the cannon fire from Savannah, nearly 10 miles to the north, and had hastily traveled south via his headquarters steamship, the Tigress. Before leaving, he orders Lew Wallace to march south to the growing battle, and for newly arrived USA Brigadier General William ³Bull Nelsonıs 4th Division of Buellıs Army of the Ohio to travel down the east bank of the Tennessee River to where they could be transported across to Pittsburg Landing. Arriving about 9 AM only to find the landing choked with fleeing Union soldiers, Grant saddles his horse painfully (he had been injured in a fall several days earlier, and could only walk with the aide of crutches), and rode south to assess the situation. Sherman met him in the woods just north of his new position, just north of the Hamburg-Purdy Road, and assures him that he can hold this new line. Grant is satisfied and returns to the landing after riding down his left flank.
Attack on the Second Union Line
The Union lines are seriously disrupted and unstable, but the Confederates are having their own problems. The massive, three mile long front now has broken down into a series of uncoordinated attacks, due to the thickly wooded and hilly terrain, and Johnston is no longer able to control the entire line. The three corps commanders and Johnston decide to break up overall command into a series of sector commands; Johnston controls the right from Prentissı camp, Bragg takes the right-center at the Eastern Corinth Road, Polk takes the left-center at the Corinth Road and Shiloh Church, while Hardee moves west to Owl Creek and takes control of the left flank.
A little after 10:30 AM, just after grant finishes his visit with Sherman, Polk initiates a gigantic attack on Shermanıs and McClernandıs positions with 10 reinforced brigades, over 2/3 of the entire Confederate force on the field.The Union lines reeled under the massive attack and soon broke, falling back almost 3/4 of a mile to Jones field. Ironically, this attack produced the exact opposite of what Johnston wanted; driving the Union line back, but the right flank rather than the left, and moving it towards Pittsburg Landing.
The Hornetsı Nest
At the same time, a smaller attack on the Union left flank by Chalmerıs and Jacksonıs Brigades slams into McArthurıs and Stuartıs Brigades, wounding both Union commanders and forcing them to retreat. By 11 AM a strong Union line is forming, centered on William Wallaceıs and Prentissı position hidden along the Sunken Road. Several Confederate attacks on this position are thrown back with heavy losses before Bragg realizes what a strong force is concentrated there. As Gibsonıs Brigade attacks through a dense thicket just east of Duncan field towards the Sunken Road, Union artillery firing cannister and infantry rifle fire rake through the brush. The bullets and cannister balls ripping the leaves apart remind the Confederate infantrymen of a swarm of angry hornets, and name the place the Hornetıs Nest.
To the left (west) of the Hornetıs Nest, Bragg once again displays his irritated impatience, and orders attack after attack across Duncanıs field on the well-positioned Union line, each one being broken and thrown back in turn. To add to his problem, Sherman and McClernand managed to regroup their scattered forces and counterattack Hardeeıs and Polkıs forces, briefly regaining their own camps. To reestablish his gains, Beauregard throws his last reserves in the lines, which stops the Union counterattack. A fierce battle rages between the two armies in Woolf field, near the Water Oaks Pond just north of the Corinth road for just under two hours before the Union troops are once again thrown back to Jones field.
The Peach Orchard
On the right of the Hornetsı Nest, multiple attacks against Hurlbut and McArthur had been repulsed with heavy losses, until at last some of the Confederate soldiers refused to mount another assault. Riding forward about 2 PM, Johnston announced that he would get them going, and told the battered force that he would personally lead the next attack. Riding down the line of infantry, he tapped on their bayonets and said, These must do the work. Men, they are stubborn, weıre going to have to use the bayonet.² He then turned, and with a shouted command for them to follow him, he headed towards the Union left flank. The line of infantry rose with a scream, and four brigades followed Johnston into battle.
At this same time, Stuartıs Brigade, directly in front of where Johnston was headed, had nearly completely run out of ammunition, and Stuart ordered a retreat. With Johnstonıs men sweeping forward, both Hurlbutıs and McArthurıs flanks were exposed and caved in. Both Union brigades retreated north to the upper end of Bellıs field, near a small peach orchard. Returning a heavy volume of fire on the advancing Confederate force, newly opened peach blossoms fell like snow on the ground as bullets and shot sprayed through the trees.
As Johnston watched the battle unfolding a little after 2:30 PM from across the Hamburg-Savannah Road, at the southeast corner of Bellıs field, a bullet ripped through his right leg just below the knee. Probably fired by own of his own men (the ball came in from the rear), the wound amazingly went almost unnoticed by Johnston. Years earlier, Johnston had been struck in the same leg during a duel, which damaged the nerves and possibly numbed the leg to the point that he couldnıt feel a gun shot wound. Minutes later he tumbled from his horse, caught by his aide, Tennessee Governor Isham Green Harris, and was laid to rest under a nearby tree. Harris frantically tore open his uniform looking for a significant wound, but dismissed the leg wound as minor. Unfortunately, the leg wound had opened up a major artery, and Johnston bled to death within minutes.
Beauregard Assumes Command
At about 3 PM Beauregard found out that Johnston is dead, and took over command of all the Confederate forces in the field. Responding to the growing sounds of battle around the Hornetıs Nest, he ordered most of his left flank to shift over to the right to reinforce the attack there. By doing so he committed two major mistakes. First, his assault that threw back Shermanıs counterattack had been highly successful, pushing the Union right flank far back across the north end of Jones field and on across the Tilghman Branch, and seriously decimating their ranks. A follow-up attack could well have split the Union ranks, sending Sherman and McClernand north and west away from Pittsburg Landing, precisely as Beauregard had originally planned.
Second, the growing battle on his right flank was due to a continued hammering at a relatively small Union force well positioned at the Sunken Road forest area, but isolated from retreat, resupply or reinforcement. Bypassing this position would have undoubtedly resulted in a surrender of the entire command by nightfall, and possibly led to a successful capture of the steamboat landing itself. Instead, not only did Beauregard order a continued hammering at the isolated Union position, but the shift of units from other isolated fights on the battlefield relieved pressure on other Union units, which were then able to withdraw and reestablish a line along the Hamburg-Savannah and Corinth-Pittsburg Roads, protecting Pittsburg Landing as a landing place for Buellıs rapidly approaching command.
The lack of control Beauregard, or any other high commander had over the spread-out Confederate forces became painfully obvious in the fight around the Hornetıs Nest; even if Beauregard had not ordered a concentration of forces there, it most likely would have occurred anyway. Individual regiments and brigades that were not already engaged elsewhere, and that had rookie or undisciplined commanders started following what Shiloh Park Ranger Stacy D. Allen called the ³make yourself useful policy,² drifting over towards the sound of battle without specific orders to do (or even not to do) so.
With news of the death of Johnston, Bragg shifted over and took direct control of the Confederate right. Hurlbut had established a new line on the north end of the Peach Orchard just before Johnstonıs death (which was what he was observing when shot), and despite having an unsupported left flank, was making things hot for the assaulting Confederates. Just behind his position was a small, shallow pond that had the only fresh water available on this part of the battlefield. Wounded and parched infantrymen and horses alike crawled over to itıs shores to get a cool drink, many were too badly wounded to raise their heads once in the pond and drowned in the foot-deep water. Dozens of blue-clad infantry piled up in heaps of the dead and dying all around the water, their wounds dripped and dissolved into the damp ground, staining the pond a deep crimson. When Confederates advanced past the ghastly scene, someone remarked what a ³bloody pond² it was; the name stuck.
ABout 4 PM, Hurlbutıs line finally caved in under the intense Confederate fire, and he retreated up the Hamburg-Savannah Road. Jacksonıs and Chalmersı Brigades, now supported by Clantonıs Alabama Cavalry Regiment, rush through the hole left by Stuartıs and McArthurıs collapse, and begin advancing north to the east flank of the Hornetıs nest. About the same time, the seventh direct assault against the Hornetıs Nest was hurled back, bleeding and battered troops of Florida, Louisiana and Texas pulling back to try and reestablish their ranks.
The Surrender of the Hornetıs Nest
CSA Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles had seen enough. Gathering up as many artillery batteries and individual gun crews as he and his staff could locate, by 4:30 PM he had 53 guns parked axle to axle on the west border of Duncan field, 400 to 500 yards directly across open ground from Wallaceıs and Prentissı position in the Hornetıs Nest. This was the largest assembly of artillery ever seen at that time in the Western Hemisphere arrayed against a single target. Given the order to fire, the entire line of artillery opened up with a thunderous roar. Ruggles had ordered a mixed load of shot, shell and cannister fired as rapidly as possible. For nearly 1/2 hour the artillery kept up a fire that averaged three shots per second going into the Union position.
When at last the murderous fire lifted, another Confederate assault charged the Union lines led by Wood, this time sweeping all around both flanks and meeting at the junction of the Hamburg-Savannah and Corinth Roads north of the Hornetıs Nest. As the assault came down upon them, both Wallace and Prentissı ordered a retreat, trying to break out of their position before surrounded. While leading an Iowa brigade north to the Corinth Road, Wallace was struck on the head, dying minutes later. With the death of Wallace and the impossibility of his situation painfully obvious, Prentiss finally surrendered what was left of the two brigades a little after 5:30 PM; himself and 2,250 men, the largest surrender to that date in the war.
Grantıs Last Line of Defense
While the remainder of his forces were slowly dissolving away to the west and south, Grant hurriedly brought up as much artillery and as many men as he could scrape together to guard the critically important landing. By the time the last survivors of the Hornetıs Nest surrendered, Grant had about 70 cannon and 20,000 infantrymen in line for defense. His 1 1/4 mile long last-ditch defense line started at Dill Branch on the left flank, where it entered the Tennessee River just south of the landing, ran due west to the Hamburg-Savannah ROad, then turned north along the road to just north of Perryıs field. The majority of artillery was placed just below the crest of the low, rolling hills above the landing, obviously intended to be used for point defense should an evacuation prove necessary.
As the last artillery batteries were pulling into position, the vanguard of Buellıs Army of the Ohio finally appeared across the river from the landing. Hastily transported across the river, Nelsonıs Division has to force their way through several thousand Union soldiers desperately trying to flee the battlefield. As they fell into place, a last Confederate charge was coming up the hill at them.
The Last Charge of April 6
About 6 PM, Jacksonıs and Chalmerıs Brigades moved through the Dill Branch ravine, aiming straight at the hill above Pittsburg Landing. The mass of Union artillery opened fire on them, joined by the gunboats Lexington and Tyler with their 8-inch guns. As these two brigades struggled through the flooded branch and rugged ravine, the remnants of Andersonıs, Stephensı, and Woodıs Brigades joined in the attack without coordination, a mere 8,000 Confederates attacking without artillery support uphill and across rugged terrain into a strongly fortified Union position manned by at least 10,000 infantry, studded with nearly 40 artillery pieces and with reinforcements hustling down the road to join in.
Within minutes the Confederate assault petered out, the butternut clad infantry slipping away in squads and companys to find safer shelter as the early spring sun set on the horizon. Only Chalmerıs and Jacksonıs infantrymen managed to briefly get within rifle range of the Union line, and most of them were out of ammunition by that point, intent on closing and using the bayonet.
At 6 PM Beauregard sent word to all his commanders to suspend the attack for the night, and pull back to the captured Union encampments. One by one, guns fell silent as the Confederates moved out of range. Units were in serious disarray on both sides, and the long night would be needed just to restore some semblance of order. Some Confederate units had not slept more than naps in two days, and most had not eaten since the day before. Although warned that Buell was nearby, Beauregard disregarded the threat and decided along with Bragg, Polk and Hardee that the best plan was to rest and wait until daylight to get the army back into proper organization to renew the assault. All felt that the only task remaining was to sweep up Grantıs line and force him to retire north, a task that should not take more than a few hours.
Losses on both sides were very high in the day-long battle, with both sides suffering near identical casualties, losing almost 8,500 dead, wounded and missing. The critical factor in these losses, however, was that Grant had reinforcements on they way, while Beauregard was on his own, without hope of relief.
The Night of April 6-7, 1862
About 6 PM, just as fighting was ending for the day, Lew Wallaceıs Division finally arrived on the battlefield. Only six miles away when sent for at 11 AM, a march that should have taken about two hours had taken over seven. Grant was livid, but mistakes in navigation had simply tied up the men all day, wandering around muddy country roads north of the battlefield while trying to find the right one to lead him to Shermanıs support. Grant used Lew Wallaceıs tardiness later as an excuse to blame away some of the Union armyıs disaster of April 6, but if he had shown up on time where he was headed, his division would have entered the brunt of the fighting around Shiloh Church, and most likely routed as Sherman and McClernand had been. Lew Wallace, the future author of Ben Hur, lived with this series of mistakes all the rest of his life, dying with the thought on his mind that his errors may have killed Union soldiers.
As the two battered armys settled down for a fitful rest, clouds gathered and a heavy, cold rain started to fall shortly after 10 PM. Grant, wandered around his headquarters, reluctant to go inside, as the building had been converted to a hospital, and the shrieking wounded and charnel-house atmosphere was simply unendurable. Sherman, wounded again in the shoulder during the afternoon, finally found him under a large oak tree, holding a lantern and smoking one of his ever-present cigars. ³Well, Grant, weıve had the devilıs own day, havenıt we?² remarked the fiery Ohioan. Grant, far from demoralized, replied simply, ³Yes. Lick em tomorrow, though.²
Grant ordered the gunboats stationed in the Tennessee River to keep up a steady bombardment all night, but their shells burst mainly among the Union wounded still left out in the killing fields. The Confederates had pulled back to the former Union encampments, and were comfortably housed in their enemies tents while they feasted on the abundant supplies. Cleburne, sitting in a tent and watching the shells burst around the bodies of the Union dead and wounded, remarked that ³History records few instances of more reckless inhumanity than this.²
As the night wore on, Buellıs Army of the Ohio traveled south from Savannah and crossed over into Grantıs line; by 8 AM on April 7 over 13,000 fresh, well-equipped troops stood ready to renew the fight. Beauregard had no reinforcements to bring up, but remained optimistic. Upon hearing a false report that Buellıs force was actually moving on Decatur, Alabama, he fired off a report to Richmond that he had ³won a complete victory² that day, and would finish off grantıs force in the morning.
As morning approached, Grant had about 45,000 men ready for an assault on the Confederate positions, most of them well-rested and spoiling for a fight, while Beauregard could only field about 28,000 (some accounts say 20,000) tired men not yet reformed into their brigades or resupplied.
6 AM, April 7, 1862
Just before dawn on Monday morning, April 7, 1862, Grant ordered his combined armies to move out. Buellıs fresh troops moved near due south, towards Hardeeıs and Breckinridgeıs lines, while Grantıs resupplied and reinforced army moved southwest in two lines of battle towards Braggıs and Polkıs lines. Led by heavy artillery fire from the massed Union guns, the sudden dawn attack caught their Confederate opponents completely by surprise, turning the tables from the day before.
No organization existed, the Confederate infantry had simply dropped in place the night before at whatever camp was handy, and few had bothered to resupply their depleted cartridge boxes from the piles of captured Union ammunition boxes scattered literally everywhere; most most likely believed that, if Grant were smart, he would leave the field during the night rather than suffer another ³lickinı ³.
To top off Beauregardıs problems, Polk had withdrawn his corps nearly four miles to the south, to the site of his previous nights encampment, and it took nearly two hours after the Union initial attack to locate him and get his corps moving. Once in the line, none of the four corps commanders actually commanded his entire corps, the units intermingled and confusingly arrayed in the haste to mount a defense.
The Confederate Defense
With great effort, the four Confederate corps commanders managed to form a meandering defense line in the face of the Union attack, roughly running northwest to southeast from the Jones field across Duncan field just south of the Hornetıs Nest to just about the place of Johnstonıs death the day before, on the Hamburg-Savannah Road. They managed to hold this line under great pressure until about 11 AM, when a general pullback in order was called. The line moved back intact about 1/2 mile on the left and extended another 1/2 mile on the right to counter increased pressure from Buellıs forces on their right flank.
By noon the Confederate line had again pulled back under pressure to a line centered on Shiloh Church. Union units all along the line kept up a steady artillery and infantry fire; Grantıs plan was to simply roll south using his fresh troops to grind up the tired Confederate infantry. The plan worked quite well, several counterattacks by Hardee, Breckinridge and Bragg were absorbed and thrown back with heavy casualties.
The Confederate Retreat
By 1 PM it was obvious to Beauregard that, not only were they not going to be able to win this battle, he was in danger of being swept in pieces from the field. He hesitated for nearly an hour, however, before finally passing orders down the line for his commands to break contact and retreat to Corinth. Several artillery batteries positioned at Shiloh Church, along with CSA Colonel Winfield S. Stathamıs and CSA Colonel Robert P. Trabueıs Brigades of Breckinridgeıs Corps to act as a heavy rear guard.
Cavalrymen were ordered to hastily destroy all the Union equipment and supplies that the retreating infantry werenıt able to carry off with them. As the piles of broken tents and wagons blazed into the stormy afternoon, Breckinridge broke off contact and withdrew in good order at the rear of the long Confederate column. As he moved south about 5 PM, Grantıs exhausted infantry was simply too tired to follow. Breckinridge stopped for the night and redeployed at the intersection of Bark and Corinth Roads. No Union force challenged their rest, and at dawn he again moved out south into Corinth.
Grant had won a magnificent victory, but at a heavy price. Of his 65,000 man combined army (with Buellıs), 1,754 were killed, 8,408 wounded and 2,885 captured or missing in action; a fifth of his whole command. The tattered remnants of his proud regiments were too shot up and exhausted after two solid days of combat to pursue the retreating Confederates, who made it back into Mississippi without resistance.
Beauregard suffered worse; in addition to losing the beloved army commander Albert Sidney Johnston, he reported losses of 1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured. This loss of 10,699 soldiers constituted nearly a fourth of all the men he had helped bring into the campaign. Once back into Corinth, he ordered the town prepared for defense against an attack by Grant, and set about turning nearly the entire small community into one vast hospital for his thousands of wounded.
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